April 2, 2016

Here’s a New Way to Study Daniel: Through Music

Call it a traditional Seventh-day Adventist Bible study set to music.

The musicians, however, are a motley group led by a folk singer and two former hip hop artists, and the Bible study delves into the mysteries of Daniel and Revelation.

The Lesser Light Collective, as the 30-member group calls itself, released its debut album based on Revelation, “The Lamb Wins,” in 2013 and is now in the final stages of completing its sequel, “The King Dreams,” with 22 songs from the book of Daniel.

The music does not fall into a single genre, with elements of a cappella choral arrangements, spoken word, folk, hymns, jazz, Christian contemporary, hip hop, electronic, blues, and gospel. But the musicians say the lyrics seek to convey the original text of Daniel and Revelation and center on one theme: Jesus.

“We want to show that Jesus is central to both books and give a warm invitation for their further study and investigation,” said Lee Givhan, a musician and executive producer for “The King Dreams.”

Daniel and Revelation have long been the bread and butter of evangelism in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Bible studies about end-time prophecies have convicted millions of people over the past century and a half about the nearness of Christ’s return.

But as time seems to linger on and traditional evangelistic methods don’t reach some young people, a new generation of Adventists is seeking new ways to raise awareness about the prophetic books. Among them is 38-year-old director Christopher Hudson, who last fall released 
a hip, fast-paced YouTube video called “Leopard Vision (Vol. 1)” that explores the Roman Catholic Church’s role in Revelation 13.

Now the Millennial minds behind The Lesser Light Collective are tackling Daniel in “The King Dreams,” which is scheduled for release in July.

All 22 songs have been recorded, and the group initiated a crowd-funding campaign on the
Kickstarter website last week to raise the last $20,000 of the $45,000 needed to complete production. As of Friday, 51 backers had pledged more than $11,000 toward that goal.

Music Rooted in Devotions

The Daniel and Revelation project has its roots in the personal devotional life of Jennifer Jill Schwirzer, an Adventist folk singer and songwriter who has released 18 albums. Several years ago, Schwirzer got into the practice of turning passages from Revelation into poetry during her devotions and, seeing that her work easily translated into music, sought to collaborate with other musicians in producing an album.

“When none of my professional musician friends seemed interested, I gave up on the idea,” Schwirzer said.

Then, through her daughter, she met Givhan and his friend, Delon Lawrence, a beat-boxer who made music with his mouth, at an after-church function in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Givhan had been baptized through the influence of Lawrence, a former high school classmate who serves as musician, producer, and audio engineer for “The King Dreams.” (Lawrence also co-wrote the original score for “Leopard Vision (Vol. 1)”.)

“What I believe to be God’s Spirit impressed me deeply to ask them to work with me on the Revelation project,” Schwirzer said. “I knew they’d appreciate using their gifts for church-oriented music. They jumped at the opportunity.”

Givhan, a 27-year-old Philadelphia native who made three albums as the rapper Lee G before being baptized into the Adventist Church, said he was eager to participate after putting music on the back burner following his baptism in 2009.

“Working on this project was an amazing opportunity because it allowed me to use my musical gifts for ministry and learn the book of Revelation at the same time,” Givhan said.

Schwirzer poured $25,000 of her own money into “The Lamb Wins” — as much as she possibly could, Givhan said — and the last $10,070 was raised on Kickstarter.

The Lesser Light Collective singing “The Lamb Wins” from the album “The Lamb Wins,” based on Revelation.

Learning Through Music

About 2,500 CDs of the album have been sold, and additional copies have been downloaded from its website,
thelambwins.com. More importantly, the musicians said, “The Lamb Wins” created a tool for learning Revelation through song and Bible study that they hope will be replicated with “The King Dreams.”

“You can literally learn the books of Daniel and Revelation through these CDs,” Schwirzer said.

In preparing the lyrics, she asked fellow writers to convey the text itself — not just their feelings in response to the text, or even just the lessons of the text, but the text itself.

“So, for instance, for the first time in my life I can remember the beasts of Daniel 7 in order. They’re in the song,” Schwirzer said.

Schwirzer is sinking another $25,000 into the Daniel album.

Other musicians associated with the project include Jaime Jorge, an acclaimed Cuban-born concert violinist; Neville Peter, a blind gospel songwriter from the Caribbean island of St. Thomas; and Joshua Cunningham, a folk rocker from Australia who has released 11 albums. 

Most of the artists are in their 20s, said Schwirzer, who at 59 is the oldest member of the group.

“The young people on this project are serious, dedicated, Seventh-day Adventist, Christ-centered, doctrinally sound, sacrificial, committed believers,” she said. “And they use a few drums here and there and come up with music that might not please the older folks. But they are reaching a sector of people that traditional music will not reach.”

A sample of songs from The Lesser Light Collective’s upcoming album on the book of Daniel, “The King Dreams.”

'Listen With an Open Mind'

Music can be very personal, and the people behind “The King Dreams” conceded that their musical Bible study may not be for everyone.

“To someone who has their own preferred musical taste when it comes to religious music, I would simply ask that they listen with an open mind and prayerful spirit,” Givhan said. “Taste — or hear — and see if you are blessed by the music and drawn to a deeper study and understanding of God’s word. Judge by the fruits.”

He said people have come up to him after concerts several times to say they hated rap music yet loved what he did with rap. Some even said that they wouldn’t call it rap because it was more like preaching.

“That’s fine with me because like I said, the content is center stage, not the genre,” Givhan said. “Our aim here isn’t to push boundaries or change people’s musical tastes. We’re just a group of people coming from a variety of backgrounds trying to use our gifts to point people to Christ.”

With its wide range of styles, the music does defy classification. Givhan said he would simply call it “biblical music.”

“It spans the gambit musically yet in my opinion it works because the thing that unifies the music is the content,” he said.

He is convinced that this content — the Bible — is what people’s minds should be focused on in.

“We are living in the last days, and this is the message we should be meditating on, understanding, and sharing,” he said. “The medium of music is so powerful, and we have to be more careful than ever that what we put in our minds will draw us to behold God’s character.”